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02/01/2019 12:43:33 PM

Feb1

Why were the Jews enslaved and tortured for many generations to Pharaoh and the Egyptians?

A simple answer is that Pharaoh was a wicked and ruthless king of the superpower Egyptian nation of the time. Thus, since he could, he did. Perhaps he needed cheap labor; or was paranoid of the rapidly growing Jewish nation; or maybe he just loved making others suffer.

But we Jews know that there is a more correct answer than this. Many years earlier, G-d had already foretold to Abraham that his descendants would become a slave nation and suffer terribly for many centuries. Afterwards, the prophecy continued, they would be redeemed and be set free with great riches.

The entire prophecy came true. But we seem to have made full circle back to our original question: Why were the Jews enslaved and tortured for many generations to Pharaoh and the Egyptians? Yes, we know that G-d ordained it, but why? Why couldn’t the Jewish story have evolved in a much easier way, without all the suffering?

This is a pressing question, and the answer appears in this week’s Torah portion Mishpatim.  

“You shall not oppress any widow or orphan… And you shall not mistreat a stranger, nor shall you oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

Following the spectacle at Mount Sinai which forged the Jewish People into G-d’s nation, G-d began to teach them His laws. He first laid out some radical and unpopular laws, such as respecting one’s servant, respecting someone else’s property, protecting women, caring for the downtrodden, welcoming the stranger, and establishing societies which will honor the equal and infinite value of every single individual.

These was radical and unpopular because no one had ever heard of such crazy things, nor did anyone want to. In fact, for most of the world’s history, no nation every cared to recognize such bizarre laws. Conventional wisdom taught that the only ways through which societies and nations can succeed is by valuing power and money. If an individual had nothing to offer towards these causes, then they were essentially unnecessary – a burden on society.

So how did G-d expect the Jews to be able to uphold such laws and standards? Keep in mind that the Jews were surrounded by many other large and powerful nations who completely disrespected such ideas!

The answer: “…for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” You, Mr. Jew, used to be a slave yourself. You know what it feels like to be poor, beaten, the underdog, tortured, orphaned, and crushed. With this experience, you are adequately equipped and trained to know how to treat all others with kindness, respect, and dignity.

That’s why G-d felt it was absolutely necessary, that before we were to become a leading nation of the world who were meant to teach everyone else about fairness and justice, that we first experience slavery ourselves. After such an experience we can be assured that we will never let such a thing happen again to anyone or anywhere in the world.

In fact, it is a mitzvah to recall our slavery in Egypt every single day. It’s even included in our daily prayers.

So here is an exercise for you: Upon awaking each morning, close your eyes and think about Jewish history. Think about the enslavement in Egypt, how Jewish babies were drowned, how Jews were whipped, how Jews were cemented as bricks in the walls of pyramids, how Jews were starved, etc. But now, thank G-d, we are free. How does it make you feel? How does it encourage you to deal with others today? How will you offer help to someone in need today?

Shabbat Shalom!

Sat, April 20 2019 15 Nisan 5779